Britain may come away empty-handed when EU leaders finalise a package of top EU jobs next week, due to its fierce opposition to Jean-Claude Juncker’s appointment as the next European Commission president.
Prime Minister David Cameron angered his peers in June by breaking with a tradition of taking decisions by consensus and forcing a vote on whether Juncker should head the EU executive. Only Britain and Hungary voted “no”.
Cameron branded Juncker a “career insider of Brussels” and said his selection was a bad day for Europe.
“After the mess at the last summit, many leaders are much less willing to accommodate Britain, far less reward it with top jobs,” one EU diplomat said.
The leaders, meeting in Brussels for dinner next Wednesday, are to agree with Juncker who should be the EU’s next foreign policy chief, replacing Britain’s Catherine Ashton, whose term ends in October.
The may also decide who will chair their summits and act as a consensus builder and mediator among member states when European Council President Herman Van Rompuy steps down at the end of the year.
The choices are complex because of the need to balance gender, political affiliation, small and large countries, and north, south, east and west.
Because Juncker, the former Luxembourg premier set to win a comfortable endorsement by the European Parliament on Tuesday, is from the centre-right and western Europe, the leaders may look for socialists or women from northern, eastern or southern Europeans for the other two posts.
To ease a compromise, they are likely to discuss candidates for other key EU positions due to come up over the next 12 months, even if they only reach an informal understanding.
Key to solving the puzzle will be the allotment of 27 portfolios — one for each EU country — in the new Commission that will start work from November under Juncker.
Some jobs in the EU’s executive are more coveted because they wield more power, such as competition, trade, economics, energy and the internal market, covering financial and business regulation.
Britain has not put forward a candidate for foreign policy chief or European Council president, but diplomats said it was hoping for a big economic portfolio – the internal market, trade or competition – in the new Commission.
However, under EU law it is up to Juncker to decide which country gets which job.
“None of these portfolios is likely to go to Britain. You don’t reward someone who is against you,” a second EU diplomat said.
Mogherini in pole-position
Italy’s Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini is front-runner to become the new EU “foreign minister”, diplomats said, not least because leaders are keen to reward reform-minded Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who is pushing her candidacy hard.
In addition to her political skills, Mogherini is a Socialist and a woman, even if some EU diplomats question her foreign policy experience. The gender criterion carries a lot of weight for Commission jobs as Juncker would like to have more women in his team then the current Commission’s nine.
Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, though male and conservative, is also a strong candidate, diplomats said, as is centre-right Bulgarian Kristalina Georgieva, now EU Commissioner for International Cooperation.
Diplomats say Social Democratic Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt has quite broad support to become the next European Council president, but she may fall short because she is not from a euro zone country.
The French government is not keen to see the job go to a euro outsider, but some diplomats say Paris could trade support for her for the heavyweight economic and monetary portfolio for its former Socialist finance minister Pierre Moscovici.
Married to the son of former British Labour party leader Neil Kinnock, Thorning-Schmidt would also have London’s support.
“The Danish prime minister appears to be a choice acceptable to almost everybody and she could act as a bridge with Britain,” a third EU diplomat said.
If she is blocked, centre-right Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny is seen as a possible consensus candidate. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, a right-wing liberal, also has a chance, as could centre-right Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite.
“I don’t rule out an incomplete package next week without the name of Van Rompuy’s successor,” said an EU official briefed on the preparations. “They don’t need to fill that job until the autumn.”
Another post that may come into the equation is the chairman of euro zone finance ministers, the Eurogroup, now held by Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who juggles national responsibilities with the pan-euro zone role.
Euro zone leaders now want a full-time Eurogroup president, possibly appointed for five years, rather than the 2-1/2 year part-time contract, which for Dijsselbloem ends in mid-2015.
Conservative Spanish Economy Minister Luis de Guindos is widely seen as the likely successor to Dijsselbloem, unless the Dutchman were reappointed
The President of the Commission is elected by the Parliament by a majority of its members, on a proposal of the European Council acting by qualified majority. The choice of the candidate for the Presidency of the Commission should take account of the results of the elections in the European Parliament.
In consultation with the President-elect, the Council then adopts the list of the other Members of the Commission. These people are chosen on the basis of suggestions made by the Governments. The Commission is subject, as a body, to a vote of approval of the European Parliament. The College of Commissioners is then formally appointed by the European Council acting by qualified majority.
- 15 July: Parliament votes to elect Jean-Claude Juncker as EU Commission president
- 16 July: EU leaders gather in Brussels for first discussions on the Commission team
- September: Each commissioner is scrutinised in individual hearings before Parliament committees
- October: European Parliament votes to approve or reject new Commission College as a whole
- 1 November: Target date for new Commission to take office